Saturday, May 28, 2016

One year later...

On this date last year, I posted about my weight loss, which, at the time, I was just over six months into and had lost 50 pounds. Well, here it is one year later, so perhaps  some of you are wondering how it's going or if it's even still going at all. Most diets seem to last only for a short time and then the person gains all their old weight back, right? While that is true, so far, it's not true for me.

To start, at this point last year I was right around 175 pounds, just 15 pounds from my goal of 160. I officially got below 160 on August 1, 2015 when I checked in at 159.4. I officially "bottomed out" about two weeks later on August 12 when I got as low as 156.4 pounds. Since that time, yes, I have gained some weight back, currently hovering around 170 pounds. But here's the deal: while I have gained weight, it has been incredibly slow, and more importantly, has not resulted in me having to get any larger clothes or any of the smaller sizes I bought feeling tighter, particularly around the waist. What does that mean? It means the weight I'm gaining is mostly muscle, not fat. And, oh by the way, I've been trying to gain weight, back to 170.

May 26, 2016
At this point last year, since I was still actively losing weight, I was functioning on a daily recommended intake of 1,485 calories per day, which translated to 45g of fat, 150g of carbs, and 120g of protein. I was pretty good about hitting those numbers or being pretty close. I was also getting regular cardio done each week to burn around 2,000 calories in the week. Beginning in August, once I hit that initial goal of getting below 160, my trainer Josh slowly started to increase my macro totals to the point where I have been since December: 2,450 calories/per day, which includes 70g of fat, 335g of carbs, and 120g of protein. I also started to keep track of my fiber and sugar intake. Josh recommends 1g of fiber per 100 calories per day (so my goal is to be above an average of 24g per week) and no more than 100g of sugar/day. By then I had already stopped doing formal, documented cardio, at least as part of my regular workout. I still do cardio, but it's in things like yardwork or walking places instead of at the gym. When I'm able to measure it, I still put it into my app just to keep track of it all.

Progress from the beginning, covering 18 months
I still check my weight every day and keep track of everything I eat. Yes, that can be tedious at times, but overall, I've gotten so used to it, I don't mind. It becomes an issue when I'm not totally sure how much I'm eating of something or what all is in it. In those cases, I do my best to guess. The most difficult challenge I had was during my trip to Ukraine. Here in the US, most food has fairly detailed nutrition labels based on a determined "serving size", so inputting that into My Fitness Pal is pretty easy, especially when I can just scan a barcode. Even for things that don't have the label, I can usually find something in the database that's close to what I think it is.

Could I maintain my weight without tracking everything I eat? Most likely. I continue to track it all and use a scale to measure some things when I can, but more for the precision and accuracy of my results than the bigger picture.

Such was not the case in Ukraine. In other parts of Europe they have nutrition labels that are based on 100 grams, so it requires some additional math to figure out how much you're getting when the total isn't 100 grams, especially if it's less than 100 grams. Ukraine didn't have much of any nutrition labels, but even more so, I couldn't read them anyway! There were a few times I could get info from scanning the barcode, but that was pretty rare as most food did not have a barcode.

So what did I do? Well, in Ukraine, I simply stopped keeping track of food since I not only didn't have the barcode to scan or label to read, but I also often didn't even know what to call the food or if the version available in the database was anything close to what was what I had in front of me. I did that because I knew it was only for about two weeks, plus I did bring my scale, so I was keeping track of my weight every day. Keeping track helped me notice any changes and I could make adjustments as I needed. Even if I wasn't totally sure of the numbers and hitting my exact macro goals, I could usually tell if something was probably higher in fat, carbs, or protein. I also paid attention to how I felt after eating. I didn't want to feel hungry, but also didn't want to feel totally stuffed.

In the end, my starting weight when I left for Ukraine on March 21 was 168.2 and my weight when I returned home on April 4 was 169.2, and that was after being awake for over 24 hours, mostly sitting on a plane and in various airport waiting areas as I traveled home. On the course of the trip, my weight got as low as 167.4. In other words, it fluctuated just like it has consistently done here, even when I'm hitting my goals and getting my workouts consistently. Bottom line is I practiced reasonable moderation in what I ate and I got a good amount of physical activity. It was pretty easy doing that in Ukraine since I was with my sister (who doesn't like just hanging out) and we had to walk just about anywhere. I was able to get one good formal workout in on the trip, but that was it.

I've never been comfortable calling what I've been doing a "diet" mostly because "diet" has the connotation of "restriction", meaning I'm not eating a certain thing or otherwise denying myself of certain things. When people say they're "on a diet", it seems they most often mean they're avoiding certain things, usually things they really like (sweets, dairy, carbs. etc.). So it's no surprise when they inevitably miss those things they are avoiding and then ultimately fail at their attempt to lose weight as they decide this whole "diet" thing sucks and give up.

As I've said before, it's all about moderation. I continue to eat out regularly and have sweets in a reasonable manner. Not a day passes that I don't have some kind of cookies or chocolate, and ice cream regularly finds its way into my macro budget too. That doesn't mean I base my entire day around sugary snacks, but it does mean I have them. I'm far less likely to binge on them (never have had a so-called "cheat day" this entire time) since I'm not giving them up or avoiding them altogether. Same for anything like carbs and fat.

As for supplements, at this point last year I was only using a protein powder as a supplement. Well, I haven't used even that for several months now, mostly because I made a few changes in the foods I eat to meet my protein goals without having a supplement. Instead I get it mostly from chicken, turkey and roast beef lunch meat, and Greek yogurt, along with my trusty Triscuits and pretzel chips :). Occasionally I get the Pure Protein bars mostly because I like their flavor. I got a case of them for Christmas and then got another case later and used them in place of the Greek yogurt on days I felt a bit rushed in the morning. I have yet to find a supplement I actually need, at least as far as what I'm trying to accomplish. Just remember: anything that claims to "cleanse" or "detox" your system is complete and utter nonsense and is a waste of money. The only thing it "cleanses" is your bank account. Same for any supplement that claims to "block fat" (really?!?), "transfer carbs" (come on!!) or any such malarkey. Seriously, just don't waste your money on things you don't need and that aren't helping you at all.

And lastly, remember to get health advice from TRAINED PROFESSIONALS (registered dietitians or at least people who have taken college courses in nutrition and physiology), not memes or cute graphics on social media, random stories from slanted sites like "NaturalNews, Food Babe, or Mercola, or from well-meaning friends who happen to work for a multi-level marketing company that sells some "awesome" BS supplement. Working for a supplement company does not suddenly make you an expert in health and nutrition, on top of the obvious conflict of interest.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ukraine adventure: Berezhany

At the outset of the trip, Katie told me that we would go to Berezhany (Бережани) last, basically to "transition" me from the big and more modern city of Kyiv, down to Lviv, down to Ternopil, and finally to Berezhany. That may have been so, but it also saved the best for last, in my opinion. That's not to say that I didn't have some wonderful experiences seeing beautiful sights and meeting some incredible people in the other cities we visited, but Berezhany was definitely my favorite part of the trip.

Berezhany, like Ternopil and Lviv, has been in several different countries through its existence, which dates back to 1375. Just in the 20th century alone, it was part of Austria-Hungary (until 1918), West Ukrainian People's Republic (1918), Poland (1918-1939), Nazi Germany (1941-1944), the Soviet Union (as part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, 1939-1941, 1944-1991), and Ukraine (since 1991). The name of the city has two theories. One is that it comes from the word for riverbanks, which in Ukrainian is берег ("bereh", набережні or "nahberezhni" is embankments) and in Polish is brzegi, so it means "of or on the riverbanks". Another theory is that it comes from the word for birch tree, which in Polish is brzoza and in Ukrainian is береза ("bereza"). The Polish name of the city is Brzeżany, and it was part of the Kingdom of Poland for the first nearly 200 years of the city's history (until 1569). It was near the end of that time the Berezhany Castle, probably the city's best-known landmark, was built in the 1530s and 1540s.

Like Ternopil, though, while there were some really beautiful sights in Berezhany that I enjoyed being able to see, the people I met there were what really made the place special to me and stand out as a major highlight. I especially enjoyed meeting many of Katie's students, friends, and associates in town and at her school. One of my favorite activities we did was one afternoon we took several students on a hike to the hills east of town. Not only was the hill a historic World War I battle site (complete with concrete bunkers still in tact and clearly visible trenches), but spending time with the kids was a lot of fun. Even with the language barrier, it didn't matter. And yes, most of the students had a limited English vocabulary, but often times I simply relied on Katie to give me the gist of what they were telling me.

At the beginning of our hike, we passed the home of these two little girls, whom Katie knows, so they were quite excited to see her! Katie said that littlest girl reminded her of a Cabbage Patch doll. SO freaking cute!
View of town from the eastern hills.
With Katie and some of the boys who came on our hike. We had a great time!
View of town higher up with the driveway
The scenery was beautiful and the hike was fun, except for all the bugs! Everywhere! This was Katie's solution!
I soon joined Katie with my own variation of a bug shield!
Kids playing on a World War I bunker. This area is called Lysonya and was the site of battles during the war between the Russians and Austrian-German forces, which included Turks and Ukrainians.
Trenches from the war. Hard to imagine what it was like then.

Kids playing on the bunker. Considering what it was originally built for, I thought kids playing on it was a much better use.
Another bunker. There were at least three that we saw in the immediate vicinity
More trenches, but these ones filled with garbage, which was a regular problem all over Ukraine. The kids that understood English got a lesson from me about the word "lazy". I was very pleased when they finished the snack we came with, one of the students made sure to collect all the garbage! YES! Don't be lazy and leave it all behind!
Heading back to town...what a view!
Another beautiful view of Berezhany looking west
The domes of St. Volodymyr and Holy Trinity are very visible anywhere in town.

Got back to town and couldn't figure out where the rest of the group went. Oh well! We knew how to get back and ended up getting a ride from the school director! Score!

That hike was after spending much of the day outside playing games at the school. I played frisbee and ladder toss with the students on what was a beautiful day. I remember that morning we got lunch and then Katie asked if I wanted to see the museum or go to the school and see what was going on. I chose the school, not because I didn't want to see the museum, but more I wanted to get to know the students. Glad I did because it was such a great day.

While I was there, the school was on their Spring Break, so the students there were mainly the orphans. The school Katie is at is what is called an "internat" (інтернат), which basically translates to boarding school. Instead of a foster care system, orphans are sent to internats, a relic of the Soviet era. The Berezhany Internat also has students who aren't orphans, some with behavioral issues and others who are sent there by parents or social workers. As a result, the main school building has both classrooms and dorm rooms. The campus also includes an outdoor basketball court and small playground, a large athletic field, a building with a gymnastics room, adjacent weight room, and offices, another classroom building for grades 1-3, art classes, animals, and the nurse, a cafeteria building, and a building with the computer lab and manual training classes. Across the street is another building with some offices, the school library, and a small auditorium. Several of the rooms have been renovated recently and the main school building was in the process of being renovated both inside and out. I was particularly impressed by the colorful murals painted in the gymnastics room, cafeteria, and the kindergarten rooms, which were painted by one of the teachers. So bright, fun, and cheerful! I hope the students and staff realize how much work goes into creating something like that and appreciate it. I certainly did!

Katie walking down the street towards her school. The edge of the main building can be seen in the left background. The building in the right background is the cafeteria/kitchen building.

Main gate off Ruska Stree. The main school/dorm building is in the background. The building on the left is the gymnasium, which is a school for grades 7-11, similar to a high school. It is a completely separate school from the Internat. 

Katie in front of the Gymnasium school
Front of the main building of the Berezhany Internat. The part behind the tree was undergoing restoration while I was there (inside and out), hence the scaffolding. Looks great! This building has classrooms on the first floor, dorm rooms on the third floor, and a mix of dorm and classrooms on the second floor. 
Back of the main building, which obviously needs some work! Some of the playground equipment can be seen along with the playing field in the foreground. 
The cafeteria building can be seen in the center background with the main building on the left and the Gymnasium school on the right. It boggles my brain that the Internat and Gymnasium not only share a campus and some facilities, but are physically this close together and reportedly do not cooperate or get along. 
Katie playing racquetball with some of the students on the basketball court behind the main building 
View from the athletic field behind the main building. Katie's office is in the building on the far left, which also has a weight room and a large room for gymnastics. The building in the center has classes for grades 1-3, art, and a room with several animals the students take care of. You can see more of the playground equipment too. 

Back of the main building with the playground equipment.

Auditorium, which is located in a building across the street from the cafeteria. This building also has some offices and the school library.
Kindergarten room. The mural was one of many in the school. The artist is one of the kindergarten teachers. She was in the room when I took this picture. I absolutely love the murals! So happy and cheerful. Hopefully the students appreciate and enjoy them as much as I did!

Dorm room
Katie is always popular, but especially when she has gum, hand sanitizer, and/or stickers! Hands out!

Architecturally, even in a town the size of Berezhany (population approximately 18,000), there was plenty for me to see. In addition to the castle, the main church on the market square, Holy Trinity, was beautiful inside and out, similar inside to the cathedral in Ternopil. There is also another church that is quite visible on the skyline that I later came to find is St. Voloydymr. I wasn't sure if the church was even being used or not while I was there, but after getting home found that it's apparently under construction. The main dome was completed just recently. It's an orthodox church, but whatever organization is responsible for its construction doesn't have an online presence I can find. I'm not sure if it's a case of the church being rebuilt or built new. My guess is it's being rebuilt based on the apparent age of the front of the building, plus many churches in the old USSR are being rebuilt. They were either destroyed in the war or were destroyed by the government. St. Voloydymyr is a defining aspect of the Berezhany skyline, so hopefully at some point they decide to light the domes at night. Right now it's not lit, so I didn't even know it was there when I first arrived until the next morning. What a surprise looking out the window and seeing it there! I also enjoyed the lake, city hall, and the sign at the far eastern edge of town. Katie and I walked out there and while it was a bit of a walk, it was worth it for the photos we got there!

My first view of Berezhany from Katie's apartment the morning after I arrived! Beautiful! It totally took me by surprise because when we arrived the night before, I couldn't see any of this.
St. Volodymyr, which is apparently still under construction. Hopefully I can find out more about this building, such as the history and plans. It's become quite the prominent landmark in town now!
Monument built in 1991 originally to commemorate friendship between Russia and Ukraine. With all the troubles in eastern Ukraine with Russia and Russian separatists, though, now I'm told it's a monument to the friendship or unity of east and west Ukraine. No love for Russia in western Ukraine, that's for sure! 
Katie in her town, heading towards the main square
Main market (ринок or "rynok") square. The church is a Roman Catholic Church, Holy Trinity Church (Церква Святої Трійці). The golden domes are apparently a more recent improvement to the building. Older photos show them as silver colored. 
This photo of Berezhany, located on the town square, is from around 2004. You can see the silver domes of the Holy Trinity Church, and the lack of domes on St. Volodymyr in the background (only its front towers are visible). The other large church with the red roof is another Catholic Church
Holy Trinity Church. It has obviously been renovated recently (looks great!) and all the trees in town have been "trimmed". 
Interior of Holy Trinity Church, While we were there, they were doing a blessing of holy water. I wasn't sure about getting photos, so did so very discreetly! :)

City Hall with Holy Trinity Church and the town square in the background
I saw this the first day I was in Berezhany and found out while I was there that it's the ruins of the synagogue. As far as I could find, it was destroyed in the war. Like many cities in this part of Ukraine, Berezhany was part of Poland before WWII and had a sizable Jewish community. This building is just a few hundred feet from Katie's school.

Scene along the dam, on the north edge of town

Yes we had waaay too much fun on the sign...
Bridge to the castle and also a restaurant (seen in background) we ate at twice! Yes it was great! The castle is actually on a small island in between two branches of the river. 

I enjoyed not only meeting Katie's students, but many of her other friends in town too. It is of no surprise to me that Katie has been able to make many friends in Berezhany! All of us knew that would be the case when she first went to Ukraine! I enjoyed meeting all of them and getting to talk to them, either directly or through Katie. I particularly enjoyed meeting Nadiya, who teaches English at the Gymnasium school adjacent to the Internat, as well as Irina, her two boys, and Svetlana! With Irina, Svetlana, and the boys, we had an impromptu concert and lots of fun (and cake and ice cream!!!). Seriously it was one of the most fun nights AND I got to wear my new Ukrainian shirt.

Katie with Sventlana, Irina, and the boys! What a fun night we had!

We visited Svetlana's little doggy, whose name is сосиска (Sosyska), which means sausage :)
What a trip! I hope sometime soon I am able to return to Ukraine and see all these wonderful places again, especially Berezhany. Katie said she'd like to return in two years when some of her students graduate, and I hope she can! As I was getting this post ready, I was very happy to see some updates from Berezhany about improvements around town, in this case updating the big bulky informational boxes around the town square that were clearly neglected and empty. Such a thrill to see photos of them being fixed, painted, and filled with beautiful artwork! SO MUCH potential in Berezhany! What a town!